Boris Johnson tells Scots: Work with me to save the Union

Boris Johnson will pledge himself as a “passionate believer in the Union” on his first visit to Scotland as Prime Minister today, but faces a tense face-to-face meeting with Ruth Davidson after she refused to support a no-deal Brexit.

The new Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a tense face-to-face meeting with  Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson during his visit to Scotland today after she refused to support a no-deal Brexit. Picture: Getty
The new Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a tense face-to-face meeting with Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson during his visit to Scotland today after she refused to support a no-deal Brexit. Picture: Getty

The Prime Minister will visit a military base in Scotland and promise to “renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom”, announcing £300 million of investment across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to expand the programme of city-region growth deals.

Mr Johnson is expected to speak with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon while he is in Scotland, but a face-to-face meeting in Edinburgh had not been confirmed as of last night.

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The visit threatens to be overshadowed by a major clash with the Scottish Conservative leader after Ms Davidson said she could not back leaving the EU without a deal – an outcome the government said it was ramping up preparations for over the weekend.

The Scottish Conservative leader said her party was free to pursue its own Brexit stance “independently of government”, signalling she was ready to defy the new Prime Minister less than a week after he took office.

Her comments will be seen as further adding to tensions between the pair after Mr Johnson sacked David Mundell – a close ally of Ms Davidson – as Scottish Secretary.

In a national newspaper column, the Scottish Tory leader wrote: “I believe the best thing for Britain, given our decision to leave the EU, is to take the course of action the new Prime Minister built his leadership pitch on – to leave on 31 October with a deal.

“There are huge challenges in changing that deal, but I hope beyond measure the new Prime Minister is successful in getting an agreement with the EU so he can go back to the House of Commons and get the majority backing he needs. He has my full support in those efforts.”

Ms Davidson continued: “Where I differ with the UK government is on the question of a no-deal Brexit. When I was debating against the pro-Brexit side in 2016, I don’t remember anybody saying we should crash out of the EU with no arrangements in place to help maintain the vital trade that flows uninterrupted between Britain and the European Union.

“I don’t think the government should pursue a no-deal Brexit and, if it comes to it, I won’t support it.

“As leader of the party in Scotland, my position exists independently of government. I don’t have to sign a no-deal pledge to continue to serve.”
The Scottish Tory leader rejected SNP claims that a no-deal Brexit would boost the case for independence, saying: “I doubt most Scots will be buying it.”

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But she added: “I will not be backward in challenging Mr Johnson’s government where I think they are getting it wrong – and Boris is more than welcome to do the same to me when he thinks I’m wrong too.”

Adam Tomkins, the shadow Constitutional Relations Secretary, insisted that Ms Davidson’s position was consistent with the UK government, because “the Prime Minister doesn’t want a no-deal”.

“I know that Michael Gove, who is in charge of no-deal preparations, definitely wants a deal. Preparing for a no-deal Brexit isn’t the same as pursuing one.”

But Mr Tomkins added that failing to deliver Brexit after a seven-month delay “would be catastrophic, not just for the Tories, but for parliamentary democracy” because it would fuel the rise of “populist” Nigel Farage.

The Tory MSP also conceded that “if [the Prime Minister] is unsuccessful in getting a new Brexit deal, it may be necessary to go back to the people in a general election”, something Downing Street says it has no plans to do.

SNP MP Stephen Gethins said it was “time for Ruth Davidson to find a backbone” and offer serious opposition to a no-deal Brexit “instead of always rolling-over”.

“She says she will support Mr Johnson but not a no-deal Brexit – but the fact is you can’t do both,” the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman said.

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“Her position is untenable and weak.”

The Scottish Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, said there was “nothing new” in the funding package to be announced by the Prime Minister.

Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary, Lesley Laird, said: “Ruth Davidson used to say Boris Johnson’s Brexit policies weren’t good enough for this country.

“But now Boris Johnson is in Downing Street, Ruth Davidson has some serious thinking to do.

“Is she now going to back a Tory Prime Minister, who she did not support and who is moving towards a disastrous no-deal Brexit which will damage our economy, place our NHS in danger and put Scotland’s place in the UK at risk?”

Mr Johnson is expected to be accompanied by members of his Cabinet including Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and the Scottish Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove.

Speaking ahead of his visit, the Prime Minister – who named himself Minister for the Union on taking office – said the Union had a ‘bright future.

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“Our Union is the most successful political and economic union in history. We are a global brand and together we are safer, stronger and more prosperous,” he said. “So as we prepare for our bright future after Brexit, it’s vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom.

“I’m proud to be in Scotland today to make clear that I am a passionate believer in our great Union and I look forward to visiting Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that every decision I make as Prime Minister promotes and strengthens our Union.”